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Get your vehicle ready for summer driving

In the upcoming summer months, fuel prices are predicted to be at the lowest level in 6 years, it’s a great time to travel and see our wonderful country. National parks, state parks and theme parks are a great family vacation without the hassle of airports, airport security and cramped airplane seating. Some sites are reachable even in a day or two drive.

As the summer season nears, keep a few things in mind before traveling long distances. Nothing is worse to disrupt a vacation or any travel than an unplanned breakdown.

On a day to day base, getting into a hot vehicle is uncomfortable. The inside can reach over 140 degrees.

To cool the vehicle inside quickly, roll down the window for the first minute or two of driving to get some of the very hot air out. The complete interior can be as high as 140 degrees and to get it to the comfortable temperature of  70 degrees will often take 20 minutes so be patient. On this note, never leave children or animals inside a vehicle with the windows up. It’s a greenhouse in there and can kill quickly.

Getting your vehicle ready for a trip during the hot weather can make a vacation much more stress free.

The first stop should be your favorite repair shop, having them do a pre-trip check. This is most important for vehicles over 80,000 miles or those who have not taken good preventive care of their car.

The most important focus should be the cooling system of your vehicle.  About 85% of all major engine damage happens when an engine overheats.  The cooling system is one of the largest systems of your vehicle. Your repair shop should pay special attention to all the cooling hoses, water pump, radiator and other parts of the system.  Newer vehicles use a lot of plastic in the cooling system that gets brittle with age. If one plastic part breaks, it is a very good idea to replace all of the plastic parts of the cooling system at once. That includes a lot of water pumps because they have plastic impellers. 

One of the stress tests I have recommended is hitting the upper radiator inlet with a hammer lightly. If it breaks, time to replace a radiator and all the plastic pieces of the cooling system at a convenient time.

 An owner’s part in helping the shop diagnose a cooling system is to observe where the temperature gauge settles in after a long hot drive. This is hard to duplicate in the shop or in town driving. Slightly plugged radiators are often not found without the customers input that after freeway driving, the gauge reads high.

Tires, fluids and services will be checked during this inspection. If you have service records from other shops, be sure to let the shop see them so they can make informed decisions of what needs to be done.

Final Checks before you travel.

Make sure you fuel tank is full before leaving. In hot summer driving, it is a good idea to fuel up at least when the tank gets to 1/8 of a tank. In most cars, the fuel lubricates and cools the fuel pump.

Take care of the driver, the driver should be fully rested, with breaks every 3 hours.

Make sure your tires are in good shape and the tire pressure is correct. Only check tire pressure on “cool” tires, that is before the vehicle is driving or just a short distance. Never check tire pressure after a long drive when the tires are hot, you will get an erroneous reading.  Tire pressures are recommended by the vehicle manufacture. The correct pressures are on the driver’s door jam or in the owner’s manual, not on the tire.

Check the oil level before you start the vehicle or after 3 minutes of sitting on a warm engine. The worst time to check oil is to start it cold, shut the engine off and then check the oil. The oil is thicker and wouldn’t have the chance to return to the oil pan.

Check an eye on the temperature gauge as driving. Overheating an engine causes major engine damage. Never check the coolant on a hot engine, opening the cap could cause the coolant to boil causing a major geyser, burning the people around.

If you do break down, be sure to pull as far off the road as possible and set the emergency flashers. Be very careful, freeway traffic is very fast. If you’re changing a tire, it’s a good idea to have a spotter watching traffic.

Travel with a cell phone to be able to call for help.

It is so much easier to be at home doing repairs then holding up in a motel while the car is getting fixed.

Have a wonderful trip and drive rested and carefully. Leave the cell phone out of reach so not to be tempted in the distraction of looking at it as driving.